Arab League to discuss military operation in Yemen

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The Royal Saudi Air Force continued to bomb Yemen, crushing all major air defense weapons of the Houthis and their allies, according to a Saudi adviser. (Photo by CNN)

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) — In just a few weeks' time, good relations with neighbors have become a matter of survival for Yemen's President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.

On Saturday (March 28), he rallied regional allies in Egypt, while they bombarded his enemies in his country.

After Houthi rebels occupied the capital Sanaa weeks ago, Hadi's government fled. When the President called for military intervention to beat back their attempt to overthrow him, adjacent countries answered with a grand airstrike operation.

In the darkness of early Saturday, their jets increased the hail of ordnance on Sanaa, as Saudi led operation Determination Storm went into its third day. And Hadi waited in Sharm el-Sheikh to meet with the region's leaders at the Arab League summit.

'Scariest night'

This past "night was by far the scariest night since the raids started," said journalist Hakim Almasmari in Sanaa. "The strikes were so strong and continuous."

The jets bombarded Hadi's weapons caches and other military assets, Houthi and Yemeni government officials said. And Saudi Arabia claimed major successes.

The Royal Saudi Air Force crushed all major air defense weapons of the Houthis and their allies, a Saudi adviser said Saturday. They wiped out main military infrastructure around Sanaa and destroyed most of the main roadways connecting the capital with major cities Taiz and Aden.

The RSAF laid waste to all major air fields, the Saudi adviser said, and many Houthi and allied fighters fell to the bombs.

Aden mayhem

But in the southern city of Aden, the Houthis dominated on Saturday, a senior diplomat in Yemen said. "We are hearing reports of summary executions, looting."

The airstrikes extended far beyond taking out antiaircraft guns, and rumors circulated of a possible ground invasion. Without it, the Houthis would still hold sway, the diplomat said.

"The bottom line is — I do not see any political or military forces on the ground in the country now that could confront the dominant force — the Houthis," the diplomat said.

Saudi naval special forces invaded to rescue 68 diplomats out of Aden and take them to Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom has attempted to remove a U.N. delegation from the country, the Saudi adviser said.

Talk of boots

Saudi Arabia has locked the Houthis down with a blockade, effectively cutting off their supply lines, and its air force controls Yemeni airspace. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have both spoken about the possibility of putting boots on the ground.

The Arab League is expected to give its official blessing to Determination Storm on Saturday, which could clear the way for a ground invasion, CNN's Becky Anderson reported.

The Saudi adviser said to expect a major announcement from Saudi Arabia at the summit.

But there may also be pushback from a few member nations, such as Shiite majority Iraq or possibly Algeria.

Sunni-Shiite divide

Though the Saudi kingdom has taken the lead with some 100 warplanes, the coalition partners include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt.

Together they comprise about a third of the Arab League's membership. They are majority Sunni Muslim nations, and the Houthi rebels are Shiite Muslims allied with Iran.

Having Yemen become an Iranian satellite country on its border would be perceived as a major threat by neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sees the Houthis as proxies of Iran, Saudi Arabia's bitter rival on the Persian Gulf.

Iran has sharply denounced the armed intervention.

The United States, on the other hand, strongly approves of it and is supporting it logistically, and aiding coalition forces in locating targets, but it is not participating in active battle.

A small contingency of U.S. forces had been stationed in Yemen to help in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but left once Houthi rebels took the capital.

HRW: Civilians killed

Dozens of people have died in the strikes, and on Saturday, Human Rights Watch said many of the victims were civilians, perhaps as many as 34.

"Reports of air strikes and anti-aircraft weapons in heavily populated areas raise serious concerns that not enough is being done to ensure their safety," HRW regional spokesman Joe Stork said.

A Saudi Arabia defense official blamed civilian deaths on the Houthis, saying they were using them as human shields. Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri said the kingdom's military was using precision weapons to avoid collateral damage, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.

Media outlets have come under fire as well. An hour after President Hadi ordered the closure of all Houthi-controlled media — including Yemen TV and Saba TV — Houthis raided two TV channels and the prominent Al Masdar newspaper.

Al Jazeera's office in Sanaa was also targeted, the Qatar-based network said, with Houthis looting security cameras and damaging equipment.

Journalist Hakim Almasmari reported from Yemen; CNN's Nic Robertson reported from France, and Ben Brumfield wrote this story from Atlanta. CNN's Becky Anderson and Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Bombing in Yemen intensifies; Arab League to discuss military operation."